Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kalo Festival, Racism and a dip in Hanalei Bay

When Mr. B and I explored Kauai 14 years ago this week, we had the good fortune to come across the Taro Festival in Hanalei. I pounded poi, we observed local culture, and we enjoyed our fair share of local treats. As we planned our trip this year, Mr. B looked high and low for the old festival, but it wasn't listed on any events calendars he could find, nor did the Kauai Visitors Bureau know anything about it.

Last week, as we were cruising through Hanalei, I spotted a sign advertising the "Kalo Festival" slated for this weekend. Just that morning, I had been reading a children's book printed in both English and Hawaiian and had learned kalo is Hawaiian for taro. Taro, or kalo, is one of the original plants brought to the islands by Polynesian explorers. Its root is harvested, boiled, cleaned then mashed to form a paste that is used in a variety of foods. It is served as paste with meats, or used in everything from breads to desserts.

So while hundreds of tourists flocked into Hanalei town for the party that is Saturday morning farmers' market, we continued down the road with the locals for Waipa Foundation's Kalo Festival. The low-key event included samples of kalo in its various forms, student artwork, and lots of information about the plant, its history, its propogation and uses. We arrived early enough to help prepare the kalo for poi pounding, and by taking part in the entire process felt honored to be welcomed into the activity.

We also talked to lots of locals, and learned some valuable information: the giant toads we've been seeing are called "bufo" or cane toads and their skin is covered in toxin; the kissing/chirping sound we've been hearing at night is created by our friendly house geckos. See what we'd miss if we didn't talk to strangers?

One of the things I've really noticed this time about Kauai is the sense of family here. In Kauai, there's a lot of talk about the 'ohana (family), both immediate and the 'ohana (or more properly the hui) of the residents as a whole. Here, elders are addressed not as sir and ma'am or Mr. and Mrs., but auntie and uncle.(My heart melted last week when a local little girl addressed me as auntie.) And at a local event, with so many people calling each other with this familiar term of respect, I felt warm and welcome and wonderful.

Then came the master of ceremonies - what a tragic choice. Sure, Bu La'ia, a Hawaiian comedian, was funny at times, but typically at the expense of the tourists, specifically white people. His jokes were cutting and ruthless. Knowing the history of the islands, indeed indigenous people around the globe, the jokes were understandable. But as the hours wore on, we found ourselves steering clear of the area when the MC hit the stage. His bashing of the American government wasn't helpful either. And his language was unfit for the family audience. Having seldom been on the receiving end of such racist behavior, it was, if nothing else, educational. Through what he felt was comedy, Mr. B and I were made to feel completely unwelcome and were, ultimately, driven from the event. (I'm not sure the girls even caught his meaning, thanks to his use of language they've never heard combined with pidgin.) Sure, we could have stayed. But the beach called, and it was much more welcoming - and less expensive.

On to Hanalei Bay, then, but not before a stop for shave ice in Hanalei. Just enough sugar to give us the umph we needed for some good times on the beach. The girls really loved that they could go so far from shore and still touch bottom. The tiny flying silver fish were a treat, too. And I took a swim down the bay to Hanalei Pier for some exercise and to take a leap off the historic pier. (For classic movie buffs, you may recall it from "South Pacific.") The girls found some great shells, but they were still inhabited so left them behind in sand castles they built for their new-found mollusk friends.

We returned to The Shack before dark (gasp!) to enjoy barbecued BLTs, breadfruit and random leftovers from this week's feeding frenzy and family movie night featuring the 1978 version of "The Hobbit."


  1. That is not cool to give a platform to someone at a public festival if he is going to spout racist abuse and swear!

  2. I wish geckos lived around my place. How cool is that to have them all around.

  3. Kind of sad... I'm reading along, silently grumbling to myself about the poor choice by the festival organizers for the MC... And then, suddenly, you make a small mention of "The Hobbit" and my mind immediately jumps gears to WOW! I LOVE THAT ONE!!! I enjoy the old animated version better even than the current ones. Thanks for sharing! ~Kris~

  4. I wrote a note to the event organizer. (No good change comes from keeping things to ourselves.) It was a congenial note, but still got the point across, I think. She responded first thing Monday:
    Aloha Jen,

    Thank you so much for your feedback on the event. For me there were a couple of BIG lessons learned that day, and one of them was my choice of an emcee. I completely understand and agree with you, and in fact went up on the mike to try to do some damage control just before Walt played, but it was way more and worse than we anticipated. So please know that you can come to future events at Waipa without worry of being regaled with such inappropriateness. We appreciate your presence at the event, and are also basking in the OTHER wonderful things that happened that day.

    Mahalo no,

    Stacy Sproat-Beck
    Executive Director
    Waipa Foundation

  5. Very interesting observations, I have been the object racism directed at me here in good old SM, it's hurtful to say the least. I loved the Islands. we went there in the 1980s.


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